Killing Me Softly, Mister Softee

It lasts twenty-nine seconds. There is an interval of thirteen seconds before it comes on again. Thus, in one minute, I listen to the jingle 1.6 times, give or take a few notes. That’s 1.6 times per minute, every minute–minute after minute–until Mister Softee decides that there are no more cones to be sold.

You might think I am overreacting. After all, how annoying can the jingle from an ice cream truck be in the middle of August when the humidity is as high as the temperature and a walk around the block makes you sweat like a prizefighter? What’s the problem? Go downstairs and buy a vanilla cone dipped in chocolate. Shut up already.

But even going down four flights to the ice cream truck seems like a chore. Maybe it’s the heat, although I don’t really consider it hot. In fact, in the five years that I have been back in New York, I have turned on the air conditioning three or four times, and that was when company was over. I don’t like air conditioning. Not only does it make me freeze everywhere I go (e.g., the office, grocery store, dentist), but Legionnaire’s Disease has broken out again like a Rolling Stones comeback tour. It’s a sign from God.

Picture me in my fourth-floor apartment at the corner of two busy streets with my windows open all summer. I like listening to the rain. I also spend a lot of time working from home: writing, skyping, updating social media, trying not to look at that utterly “a-mazing” thing on Facebook the results of which will shock you. The last a-mazing thing I saw was the 1969 Mets. I prefer to keep it that way.

Maybe I am getting old, becoming more sensitive to things that I used to shrug off years ago. No, forget that. I was always sensitive to little things. But this is not a little thing. Believe me when I tell you that the world is much too noisy, especially here in the Bronx. It is a jack hammer jungle filled with boom-boxes, car alarms, fire engines, ambulances, back-up beeps, Evangelical street preachers, drunks, and an occasional NYPD helicopter. I don’t even like music anymore, not after listening to rap and ranchera music throbbing out of the little Hondas that circle my apartment building like sand sharks.

Years ago when our three girls would come home from school with friends from the basketball, field hockey, volleyball, and softball teams as well as the jazz band, I would retreat to the most secluded spot in the house to do my work. When that didn’t work, I went to a gun shop and bought a pair of ear muffs. I have been wearing ear muffs from the firing range ever since. I take them everywhere I go, even when traveling abroad. People just look at me funny and think I’m French.

Mister Softee 1

Mister Softee has been in the news lately. It seems a rival ice cream company, “Master Softee” (if I had made that up you’d call me a hack), has stolen their ditty, although I have heard the rival’s jingle and it is nothing like Mister Softee’s (thank God). I think it is a calliope arrangement of “Turkey in the Straw.” It’s a big hit in the Bronx.

For five years I tried in vain to discover the name of the Mister Softee song. I was convinced that it was a nursery rhyme and became so obsessed that I would seek out anyone I thought might know. That included an operatic diva and the lead singer of a Queen cover band. No one knew. I became desperate. Then, just the other day waiting to get a haircut in a sub-zero barber shop, I came across the news item you see in the top photo, “Killing me, sez Softee.”

And there it was. The reason I couldn’t find the name of the jingle was because it wasn’t a nursery rhyme at all. An advertising guy had composed it for a radio spot in 1960. It was an E flat, trademarked original. And the rest, as they say, is history.

I think I need a vacation.

Haven’t had enough? Go to Robert Brancatelli. For books like The Gringo and Laura FedoraAmazon. Stay tuned for Nine Lives and let me know if you’d like a review copy (“The main difference between a cat and a lie is that a cat only has nine lives,” Mark Twain). Note to self: Don’t ever tell a crazy person that they’re crazy!

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